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A new challenge

Simple pleasures like chasing a puppy or riding a bike are painful—if not impossible—for the thousands of children who suffer from arthritis or related conditions.

Marc Sosin once needed a wheel chair just to get around. Now, thanks to pioneering research and care at the University of Minnesota, he's an active Minnetonka Youth Football player.

Key to easing their pain and making their lives as normal as possible is specialized care by a pediatric rheumatologist‚ someone who understands both the disease and the unique circumstances of childhood growth and development.

Yet only half of the children in the United States who would benefit from such care receive it. The reason? There are not enough pediatric rheumatologists to go around.

“People simply cannot get access‚” says Richard Vehe, M.D., director of the Division of Rheumatology in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota.

Nationwide‚ Vehe says‚ fewer than 200 boardcertified‚ practicing pediatric rheumatologists care for some 300‚000 patients. A 2007 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study commissioned by Congress concluded that another 200 are needed to provide adequate care and advance research.

The Wasie Foundation‚ a Minneapolis-based private foundation‚ hopes to improve that ratio by helping to establish a pediatric rheumatology fellowship program at the University. Through the legacy of Minneapolis trucking pioneer Stanley L. Wasie and his wife‚ Marie‚ the foundation has offered to provide a matching gift of $500‚000 if the University can raise $500‚000 for the $1 million needed to jump-start the program.

Richard Vehe, M.D., and Bryce Binstadt, M.D., Ph.D.

The Wasie Foundation supports four healthrelated areas: schizophrenia‚ arthritis‚ cancer‚ and children’s health issues. Marie Wasie had a sister with severe rheumatoid arthritis and was interested in the health needs of children‚ so this new fellowship program seemed particularly appealing.

“Ultimately‚ our goal is for children who have a need for the expertise of a pediatric rheumatologist to have better access‚” says Jan Preble‚Wasie Foundation director of programs.

The program‚ which could begin as soon as summer 2009‚ would aim to begin training three fellows in its first three years. It would also provide opportunities to educate community physicians about rheumatologic diseases and carry out research aimed at improving diagnosis and treatment.

Vehe says the University of Minnesota is an ideal place to set up a pediatric rheumatology training program and develop new leaders in the specialty.

“We have a great group of people interested in immune function‚ a very strong adult rheumatology program‚ strong orthopaedic department and rehab programs—all these other assets of major institutions‚” he says. “We have a great U. We have great partners in the community. We can do this.”

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